The field of language teaching is always on the move. Every decade or so there is an innovative way to approach language teaching. For a recap of the language teaching methodologies that have surfaced over the past century take a look at this post. Over the past decade many foreign language teachers have embraced communicative language teaching, which focuses on authentic communication over language forms such as grammar structures.
To be clear, a certain level of accuracy of language is needed to convey a message that is comprehensible. The difference from methodologies of the past is that previous approaches to language teaching focused almost solely on accuracy of language. These days we see the value in focusing on the message, even when that means looking past some errors when the learner has not yet acquired the language structure.
There has been a significant shift in mindset along with the arrival of communicative language teaching. Previous methodologies focused on what learners did wrong rather than on their progress. The goal was complete accuracy in the past along with the belief that a speaker would not be understood if the language was not completely correct. We now accept that communication can happen despite occasional inaccuracy. This is the base of the difference in mindset, or underlying tenets that support the approaches.
Here are four areas of this mindset shift that distinguish current communicative approaches from accuracy-centered approach of the past.
Objectives and Content:
- Past: The teacher was the all-knowing possessor of knowledge and directed all content and objectives to ensure progress toward correct language.
- Present: The teacher works in collaboration with students and there are shared learning objectives. Content is driven by both the teacher and the student.
- Past: Typically communication was focused on the four traditional language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. This usually meant that these skills were practiced in isolation and were not interconnected.
- Present: The three modes of communication (presentational, interpretive, interpersonal) are now the focus. They provide students with opportunities to do something with the four skills.
- Past: The focus was on what students knew about the language and its structures. Practice of correct grammatical forms of the language were typically done in isolation and out of context.
- Present: The focus is on what the learner is able to do or accomplish with the language. This is always tied to context and students communicate authentically with the language despite occasional inaccuracy in language when the message is clear.
- Past: Assessments determined the level of language accuracy and the teacher could easily and quickly point out what was incorrect, such as verb forms, noun gender, adjective agreement, etc.
- Present: Assessments are performance-based. Teachers use tools and strategies such as backwards design and Can-Do statements to guide students toward communication.
Where are you regarding your teaching mindset? If you want to embrace communicative language teaching, take a look at the “present” mindset statements and see where you are. It can take some time and a solid approach is always evolving. It doesn’t have to happen this week. Download this PDF with some questions to help keep your lesson planning in the “present.”
Posted in Classroom Procedures, Listening, Reading, Speaking, Teaching Methodology and Research, Writing
Tagged ACTFL, communication, Foreigh Langauge, french, language learning, proficiency, spanish, teacher
What is the purpose of communication? Is it to practice language? Maybe it is to polish our verb forms and word order? Perhaps it is to use all the vocabulary that we have learned in a language? Hopefully, we can all agree that this sort of “communication” that has not have a clear goal is not the reason that we engage in language learning. The reason we communicate in any language in any form is to convey or understand a message.
When it comes to understanding or conveying a message there are three ways of looking at the communication. The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines put communication to these categories: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational. Each of these modes of communication looks at the message in unique way. A solid understanding of how a message is conveyed or understood when speaking, writing or reading is essential to using various tools needed to effectively communicate.
Presentational communication is one-way speaking or writing that does not allow for real time clarification of meaning. This means that the speaker/writer has to be sure to “fill in the gaps” and have a solid understanding of what the listener or reader knows or needs to know to interpret the message.
Conversely, interpretive communication is one-way listening or reading that also does not allow for real time clarification of meaning. When reading and listening in this context the reader/listener needs to fill in their own gaps in understanding. This may require accessing personal knowledge of the topic or doing research. The most effective tool is the use of context clues and identifying what is understood to make meaning globally.
Interpersonal communication, on the other hand, is two-way speaking that allows for clarification of the message in real time. When communicating interpersonally all speakers and listeners are involved in creating and interpreting the message and work together to assure that there is a collective understanding.
These tables below lay out the three modes of communication.
I’ve been working on writing with my novice mid class (3rd graders). They are consistently in the novice mid range when speaking.
In this activity I first gave students a sheet with pictures of words that they know well orally and have seen written. They wrote in the words as they remember them (challenging in French because there are lots of unpronounced letters..but their spelling is recognizable to a sympathetic reader). I then gave them picture sentences and they wrote the sentences using their reference sheet. In this video I am going around and asking students to “read” the sentences without looking at what they wrote.
In a follow-up they cut out the sentences that they wrote and the individual pictures. They then reconstructed the picture sentence based on what they wrote. This is helpful to reinforce syntax.
This is a fun and interactive way for students to practice vocabulary meaning, recognition and spelling. I call this activity “Everyone to the Table!”
Begin with 4-5 tables with 3-4 students at each table. On each table put 5-8 pictures of vocabulary that students are learning along with a piece of paper or index card with the words for the pictures. Students can easily be involved in this part of the process by having them draw or find pictures on the internet prior to the day of the activity.. They can also write the words needed on index cards or pieces of paper. Memory/concentration cards work well in this activity as well.
For the first few rounds students should work together with their team to put the picture and word card together. They should mix up the pictures and words before beginning. Have students do this several times and the group that assembles the pairs first raises their hand and gets a point for their team. With each subsequent round add in 2 new picture/word pairs. It’s good to add in some review vocabulary as well.
Once groups understand what they are supposed to do, the class can move on to another version of the game. This time teams mix up their words and pictures, but when the teachers says “Everyone to the table!” groups rotate to a new table and pair up the words and pictures. The first group to assemble the pairs raises their hands and gets a point. Groups then mix up the pictures and words and again rotate to the next table. New picture/word pairs can be added in this round too. When 2-3 rotations are complete the team with the most points wins.
This is a typical writing and reading (Emerging Literacy) activity that I do with novice students (with the goal being to read and write at a novice mid sentence level*). In this particular version, my 3rd graders had learned lots of words for animals and we had recently begun learning the words for places in nature where they can be found.
The class could list about 20 animals (individual words-novice low*), and they are beginning to recognize how they are written. We started this class by listing the words on the board (animals and places in nature), then I gave them the verb “est” (is) and some prepositions to go along with the places (as phrases; “sur l’herbe” -on the grass). Students then put the structure together verbally in pairs to makes sentences (novice mid). We then moved on to writing the sentences and drawing a picture to show the meaning (novice mid*). Once done, I went around to each student and had then read the sentences, then I covered the sentences and had them describe the pictures orally.
*ACTFL Proficiency Scale
The importance of teaching and learning vocabulary in context is spreading. Gone (hopefully) are the days of teaching words in isolation and out of context. We need to keep this in mind as well when students write. I am guilty of asking students to “write each vocabulary word in a sentence” when the sentences are in isolation and don’t follow any sort of logic or context.
When would anyone need to write like this? The answer is never, or only in a foreign language class. So, I needed to change my writing prompts to make sure that students are writing with a context. This tends to be a bit more manageable with students that have a higher proficiency, but I wanted to make sure that I was instilling the concept and skill of writing in context with my younger (lower proficiency) students early on so that this would become the norm as they gain in proficiency.
Here is an example of a writing assignment that I do with my elementary students to scaffold them into writing in context. It is a foldable that represents a house. They begin by “building” their house, which is simply folding a piece of paper in half, then folding in each side. Students then cut two lines on each flap and glue on a roof. Next, they write the names of rooms in the house (and the yard) on the flaps, which represent doors or windows.
Students then write six sentences stating what they like or don’t like to do in each room in the house. This gives them an opportunity to use all the verbs they have learned in context along with the rooms in the house. Once I go over the draft sentences with each student, they write the sentence inside the room.
Finally, students cut out a picture of the activity and glue that inside the room as well. This is a great way to reinforce the meaning of the words in the sentence without resorting to translation.
When finished, these can be used to have a conversation with students where they read the sentences of other students and respond to react to what they read.
Lots of possibilities with other concepts. I’m just getting starting. Please comment on other ideas.
Lingro.com: No need to look up words in the dictionary or with an online translator with this useful translation website. Enter a website address and you’ll be taken to a Lingro supported version of the page where every word is clickable. Click on a word to see its definition. There are 11 languages available with translation available between each of the individual languages. There are even ways to track the words that you click to check yourself after reading the page in the foreign language.